Acts 9 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

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Peter's Healing Ministry at Lydda and Joppa

When Jews use the all-purpose greeting/farewell "Shalom!" (peace), they are wishing that your life be more than hassle-free. They desire for you that sense of well-being born of full health. The church too "enjoyed peace" (9:31), the shalom of a formerly bedridden Aeneas walking about in the Lydda Christian assembly and a once deceased Dorcas again busily sewing garments for the needy.

These transitional episodes flesh out the summary statement of 9:31, demonstrating that the mission to the Jews in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria (1:8) has been completed all the way to the coast. They are preparatory for the next great advance of the church: the Jerusalem church's Gentile mission (10:1--11:18). They place Peter in an advantageous geographical position to respond to the summons of Cornelius.Peter and Aeneas (9:32-35)

We last saw Peter evangelizing Samaritan villages (8:25). Now he appears itinerating about the countryside, probably the regions mentioned in 9:31 (Haenchen 1971:338) as opposed to the territory between Jerusalem and Lydda (Bruce 1990:246). We are not told whether he is providing edificatory oversight to believers (Haenchen 1971:338) or evangelizing the unreached (Bruce 1990:246 calls it missionary work) or both.

The apostle arrives at Lydda, twenty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem at the intersection of highways from Egypt to Syria and from Jerusalem to coastal Joppa. It was the capital of a toparchy, or administrative district, and had a predominantly Jewish population in an ethnically mixed region. It is the Old Testament city of Lod, near which modern Israel's international airport of the same name is located (1 Chron 8:12; Ezra 2:33; Neh 11:35). There Peter finds saints (compare 9:13) who were converted under the witness of pilgrims returning from Pentecost or of Hellenistic Jewish Christians dispersed by persecution or of Philip (Acts 8:1, 40; Longenecker 1981:381; E. F. Harrison 1986:171; Kistemaker 1990:358).

Among the saints there--not Lydda's population in general, and therefore a Christian, not a non-Christian, gathering--Peter meets the Hellenistic Jewish Christian Aeneas. For eight years he has had a chronic ailment that has left the lower part of his body paralyzed. One such type of paraplegia is tuberculosis spondylitis, a paralysis that results from compression of the spinal chord (R. K. Harrison 1979:958). Aeneas has been confined to his mat, which is his bed.

Peter declares, Jesus Christ heals you (compare 1:1; simple action present--"this moment Jesus Christ heals you," Longenecker 1981:381). Then follows the command Get up and take care of your mat. As a sign of instantaneous and full recovery Aeneas immediately gets up (compare 3:7-8; Is 35:6). Luke points to the great impact this miracle has for the advance of the church. All who see Aeneas in Lydda and the coastal plain of Sharon, stretching from Joppa to Mt. Carmel beyond Caesarea, [turn] to the Lord.

What is the relationship between miracleworking and evangelism (9:35, 42)? In Acts, miracles accompany about half of the occasions of effective preaching of the gospel (2:4/14-41; 2:43/47; 3:1-10/11-26; 4:29, 30/33; 5:12-16; 6:8, 10/7:1-53; 8:5/6; 9:34/35; 9:40-41/42; 13:10-11/12; 14:1/3; 14:10/15-17); on the other occasions they do not (8:35-38; 9:22; 9:28-29; 10:34-43; 11:20-21; 13:16-41; 16:14-15; 16:31-34; 17:1-4; 17:22-34; 18:4-5; 19:8-10; 20:18-21).

We need to avoid two extremes. Rather than despising the role of the miraculous in evoking saving faith, we should recognize its legitimate role in giving credence to the preached word. In the end, saving faith must rest not on the impression the miracle has made but on the truth of the message to which it points. Furthermore, there is nothing superior about preaching that is accompanied by the miraculous. Luke knows well that experience of the miraculous can bring misunderstanding and confusion and even throw up a hindrance to saving faith. Those who interpret it according to an unregenerate worldview will be blind to its true origin and significance (Lk 11:15; 16:27-31; Acts 14:8-18; 16:16-21). When miracles do occur as the gospel is being preached, the evangelist must fearlessly interpret God's acts by his Word to the audience, so that misunderstanding is put down and Jesus Christ is exalted.Peter and Dorcas (9:36-43)

Eleven miles farther northwest, in Joppa (the ancient seaport for Jerusalem, Josh 19:46; modern Jaffa), lives Tabitha, or Dorcas, a disciple famous for her kindness to the poor. She lives in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31) by adopting correct values concerning material things (compare Lk 12:33; Acts 10:2, 4; 20:35; 24:17). Dorcas becomes sick and dies. Funeral arrangements begin with the cleansing of the body with oil and rinsing it clean with water (m. Sabbat 23:5). Then she is placed in an upper room (compare Semahot 11:2). Outside Jerusalem, burial was not necessarily carried out on the same day, especially if the shroud or the coffin needed to be prepared (Safrai 1976:776). Luke notes Lydda's nearness to Joppa and the sending for Peter.

Out of honor to such a saint, Peter does come. As he is conducted to the upper room, the noisy wailing of widows greets him. They are probably among the Christian poor Dorcas had helped (Acts 6:1; compare Jesus' special interest in widows in his teaching and ministry: Lk 4:25-26; 7:12; 18:1-8; 20:47; 21:1-4). In fact they are wearing some of her handiwork. Dorcas customarily made (epoiei, customary use of the imperfect [Williams 1985:167], not pluperfect as NIV) undergarments and outergarments--cloaks--for them (NIV robes and other clothing is less precise).

In Dorcas Luke gives us a model of Christian charity to the marginalized in society. Then orphans and widows were the most economically vulnerable (Lk 20:47). No government safety net was there to catch them. And today too, Christians must bring as much "shalom" as possible to those on the margins.

Peter's actions show his total dependence on God. Ordering everyone out of the room (Mk 5:40) and falling on his knees in prayer, he asks the risen Lord to apply his resurrection power to this corpse. Then turning toward the dead woman (literally, "to the body"), he issues the simple command Tabitha, get up. In a reversal of the first act of preparation for burial, closing the eyes of the deceased (m. Sabbat 23:5; Semahot 1:4), Dorcas opens her eyes and, seeing Peter, sits up.

What joy there must be as Peter, helping her to her feet, calls through the door to the believers (literally "the saints"), and especially the widows, to whom he presents her alive (compare Acts 1:3). News of the resurrection leads many to saving faith in the Lord, and Peter remains quite awhile in Joppa, in the house of Simon the tanner.

The way God resurrected Dorcas apart from any actions by Peter which could be interpreted as magical manipulation shows us that prayer and the Word of God must be central to every healing God grants.

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Paul's Witness in Damascus and Jerusalem

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The Mission Is Inaugurated Through Peter

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